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Part Two: What’s Not Wrong with Introverts

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

The pandemic continues, but we’re also processing part of the pandemic. We went a year with no weddings, no kids’ birthday parties, no family reunions, but it wasn’t all good news. --Jim Gaffigan, “Comedy Monster” Many years ago, one of my best friend’s sons had a birthday party at one of those indoor bounce house places. Near the end of the party, Grayson, five years old, was placed on a huge inflatable chair, the candles on the cake were lit, and dozens of friends and family burst into song at him. He burst into tears. Grayson was an introvert. He was also one of the kindest, most affectionate, creative and delightful little people I have ever known. There was nothing wrong with him. That was just too much attention and too much noise for him. There’s nothing wrong with introverts. And if there was, it would be weird. Because they make up an estimated 25-40 percent of the population. And yet they are deeply misunderstood, in America particularly. I polled my Instagram followers last week, and 100% of the ILOs (remember, that stands for Introverted Loved Ones), said they felt misunderstood by our culture. Let’s see if we can fix that, shall we? The reason someone is an introvert is largely physiological, determined by how one’s nervous system processes stimulation. We’re about to get clinical: The reticular activating system, or RAS, is responsible for how easily a person is goes on alert in response to stimulation. If your RAS is more sensitive, you are more likely to have an introverted personality. Basically, you get over-stimulated more quickly, you are sent into “fight or flight” more easily, and you get drained by an excess of noise, sights, ideas and even smells. Why go into these specifics, my dears? Because this blog is about authentically loving God, yourself and others. And authenticity comes out of understanding. It’s important for all of us to understand that 25-40% of our friends, neighbors, family members, and ourselves, are, as I said in my last blog, spending some of the most “sacred” days on the calendar overstimulated and overwhelmed. They didn't suffer during the pandemic as much as the extroverts did; or at least not for the same reasons. (See Jim Gaffigan, above.)

And I’m here to confess that in my extroverted nature, I’ve not understood you. If you are an ILO, hear this now: There is nothing wrong with you. There may be, instead, something wrong in the way we are loving you, educating you, celebrating you, and even "churching" you. I want to deal with that last one right now, as my act of amends. I’ve been leading “small groups” at church and in other ministries for 30 years. In the evangelical tradition, second only to "quiet time" and Bible reading (which is hard for some of the extroverts), group discussion is the primary way we believe people experience spiritual growth. At my current home church, our saying is, “people grow in circles, not in rows.” And the primary belief system, taught in every small group training session I’ve been in, is that we need to share vulnerably with the group in order to grow. Small group leaders (almost always extroverts like me), make it their mission to draw out the quiet members of the group. And we rejoice – we bring it to our training meetings as a praise – when the “quiet ones” finally share. Now don’t get me wrong: Group discussions are great. Small groups are great. And it is exciting when anyone takes a brave, vulnerable step and shares authentically, especially when they are met by a group with safety and kindness. Which is why training our leaders to disciple people into responding gently to people's shares is more important than the focus of drawing people out. But the greater danger of this discipleship model is if we come believe that the people who don’t share in small groups are not growing. Or, even worse, that people who don’t go to formal small groups can’t grow. With what we know physiologically about introverts, group discussions can be physically overwhelming and exhausting. What we know psychologically about introverts is that they are inward processors. I am married to an introvert, as previously stated, and I will tell you that he loves God and lives in integrity as much as any person I know. But he does not like going to small groups. I had cognitive dissonance about this for decades! How could he be a spiritually mature person and NOT be in a men’s group or a couples’ group? Our church’s discipleship model would imply that was impossible. But it isn’t. He processes inwardly and with a select group of people, one at a time. We need to do better by our ILOs. In my ministry, I always do a (quiet) shout-out to the introverts at women’s retreats, affirming them for coming out of their comfort zone. And I’m also happy to talk to them one-on-one, because it may be lots easier than it will be for them to go back to their cabin and lay their deep thoughts out on the rug. Going forward, as I train and lead Bible study, I remember that a large portion of the those walking through our church doors are processing deep thoughts and showing up open-hearted, even if they don’t always open their mouths. Welcome, ILOs. I love you. This is part two of a three-part series. In Part Three, we’ll talk about what introverts teach the world about healthy limits. I’m also proud to be part of a new small group series churches that seeks to help us understand each other and learn spiritual skills in new ways: the How We Love Small Group Study for Churches, by Milan and Kay Yerkovich, of which I am the editor. The video series and participants’ guide includes group discussion, but also skill building in pairs, ensuring that everyone gets a chance to speak, think, be heard and learn new relational skills. Check out! Read more about introverts here:

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